Soylent Green And The Bleak Sci-Fi Of The ’60s and ’70s

2022 is not only our fresh new year, it’s also the year in which the 1973 sci-fi thriller Soylent Green was set. Soylent Green envisioned a truly awful 2022: the world was grossly overpopulated, mass starvation provoked regular food riots until the masses received their “soylent” food rations, the environment had been ruined by pollution, and people were at the mercy of a cold-blooded authoritarian police state. The movie allowed Charlton Heston to exercise some of his legendary scenery-chewing acting instincts, including the classic final scene where Heston shouts to the world: “Soylent green is people! It’s people!”

In short, Soylent Green sets a very low bar for our 2022. This year might not be great, but at least it’s unlikely that we’ll be eating each other.

We’re living through a lot of the years in which bleak sci-fi movies and stories were set–Blade Runner, for example, was set in 2019–and the future hasn’t turned out to be as grim as the writers envisioned. There’s always been a pretty strong tradition of horrific futures in science fiction, as writers took whatever seemed to be the problems of the day, multiplied them, and extrapolated them forward into terrible future worlds that were dark, overcrowded, starving, wrecked, merciless, and governed by fascists. (If that tradition holds true, current sci fi writers may well be envisioning distant futures where epidemics rage.)

Of course, most of those visions turned our to be wrong. We haven’t experienced a nuclear holocaust, been terrorized by killer artificial intelligence or intelligent apes, seen our oceans turned to sewage, or experienced planet-wide starvation and horrific plagues. Sci-fi writers of the ’60s and ’70s would no doubt be stunned to learn that one of the biggest health problems in our real world of 2022 isn’t starvation–it’s obesity!

Making It To Another Year

Well, it’s 2022. There’s no point in trying to capture 2021 in a few pithy words; everyone’s years are different depending on what happened in their personal lives. 2021 will have been a year with varying degrees of triumph and tragedy, wins and losses, fun and drudgery–all against the backdrop of COVID-19 and the continuing impact of the pandemic on our daily lives. By the time December 31 rolled around, my guess is that most of us were ready for 2021 to end and to turn the page to what we hope will be a new, and better, chapter.

If you’re a resolution maker, go ahead and make those resolutions to exercise more, eat less, quit smoking, step away from social media obsession, and finally make whatever other fundamental changes to your lives that you think need to be made. Why not? It can’t hurt, and a few weeks or a month of resolution-keeping–which tends to be the standard shelf life for resolutions–is better than nothing. And if you manage to keep those resolutions for the entire year, you can savor a real accomplishment.

If you’re not a resolution maker, appreciate the fact that you made it past another milestone into another year. That wasn’t true for many people. And the past two years haven’t been easy ones, from a big-picture perspective. Maintaining a positive viewpoint and going about our lives without being driven into a fetal position by scary headlines, testing angst, and breathless announcements of new COVID variants is an achievement in and of itself. Congratulations!

On to 2022, folks! May everyone have a happy new year!